Posts Tagged ‘William Marsden (Orientalist)’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency (I include those who were born before 1811 and who died after 1795), today I continue with one of the many period notables.

The Asiatick Society
15 January 1784-

The Asiatick Society was founded by Sir William Jones on 15 January 1784 in a meeting presided over by Sir Robert Chambers, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at the Fort William in Calcutta, then capital of the British Raj, to enhance and further the cause of Oriental research. At the time of its foundation, this Society was named as “Asiatick Society”. In 1825, the society dropped the antique k without any formal resolution and the Society was renamed as “The Asiatic Society”. In 1832 the name was changed to “The Asiatic Society of Bengal.”

The Society is housed in a building at Park Street in Kolkata (Calcutta). The Society moved into this building during 1808. In 1823, the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta was formed and all the meetings of this society were held in the Asiatic Society.

n January 1784 Sir William Jones sent out a circular-letter to a selected number of British residents of Calcutta with a view to establish a society for the Asiatic studies. At his inivitation, thirty British residents met in the Grand Jury Room of the Supreme Court (in Calcutta’s Fort William) on 15 January 1784. The meeting was presided over by Sir Robert Chambers. At this meeting, Jones explained the aims of the Society, he would establish. The Memorandum of Articles of the Asiatick Society, prepared by Jones said:
The bounds of investigations will be the geographical limits of Asia, and within these limits its enquiries will be extended to whatever is performed by man or produced by nature.

Notable early members were Charles Wilkins and Alexander Hamilton (the cousin of the American statesman). Initially, the Grand Jury Room of the Supreme Court was used for the meetings of the members, who had to pay a quarterly fee of two mohurs. The members were elected through ballot-voting. On 29 September 1796 the Society decided to have its own building. J.H. Harrington, then Vice-President selected the corner of Park Street and Chowringhee Road (present location) for the Society’s house. The site was granted to the society on 15 May 1805. The original plan for the new building was prepared by Captain Thomas Preston. The French architect, Jean Jacques Pichon (or Jean Jacques Pissaun) made certain modifications to it and constructed a two storeyed building at the site. This 15,071 ft² building was built at a cost of Rs. 30,000.00. The first quarterly meeting of the Society for 1808 was held at its new building on 3 February 1808.

From 1784 to 1828, only Europeans were elected members of the Society. In 1829, at the initiative of H.H. Wilson, a number of Indians were elected members, which include Dwarakanath Tagore, Sivchandra Das, Maharaja Baidyanath Roy, Maharaja Bunwari Govind Roy, Raja Kalikrishna Bahadur, Rajchunder Das, Ram Comul Sen and Prasanna Coomar Tagore. On 12 December 1832 Ram Comul Sen was elected ‘Native Secretary’.

The early collection of this library was enriched by the contributions it received from its members. On 25 March 1784 the library received seven Persian manuscripts from Henri Richardson. The next contribution came from William Marsden, who donated his book, History of Island of Sumatra (1783) on 10 November 1784. Robert Home, the first Library-in-Charge (1804) donated his small but valuable collection of works on art. The first accession of importance was a gift from the Seringapatam Committee on 3 February 1808 consisting of a collection from the Palace Library of Tipu Sultan. The library received the Surveyor-General Colonel Mackenzie’s collection of manuscripts and drawings in December 1822.

The museum of the Society was founded in 1814 under the superintendence of Nathaniel Wallich.

When the Indian Museum of Calcutta was established in 1814, the Society handed over most of its valuable collections to it. The Society however still has a museum of its own which possesses a rock edict of Asoka (c. 250 BCE) and a significant collection of copper plate inscriptions, coins, sculptures, manuscripts and archival records. Some masterpieces, like Joshua Reynolds’ Cupid asleep on Cloud , Guido Cagnacci’s Cleopatra, Thomas Daniell’s A Ghat at Benares and Peter Paul Rubens’ Infant Christ are also in the possession of this museum.

  • Asiatic Society of Bengal (1832). Asiatic researches or transactions of the Society instituted in Bengal, for inquiring into the history and antiquities, the arts, sciences, and literature, of Asia, Volume 17. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
  • Asiatick researches. 1832. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
  • Asiatick Researches, Or, Transactions of the Society Instituted in Bengal, for Inquiring Into the History and Antiquities, the Arts, Sciences, and Literature of Asia, Volume 17. Contributor Asiatick Society (Calcutta, India). Bengal Military Orphans Press. 1832. Retrieved 24 April 2014.

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Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

William Marsden (Orientalist)
16 November 1754 – 6 October 1836


William Marsden

William Marsden was the son of a Dublin merchant. He was born in Verval, County Wicklow, and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. Upon obtaining a civil service appointment with the East India Company at sixteen years of age, he was sent to Benkulen, Sumatra, in 1771. He was promoted to the position of principal secretary to the government, and acquired a knowledge of the Malay language and the country. After returning to England in 1779, he was awarded the Doctor of Civil Law (D.C.L.) degree by Oxford University in 1780 and published his History of Sumatra in (1783).

Marsden was elected to membership in the Royal Society in 1783. He had been recommended by James Rennell, Edward Whitaker Gray, John Topham, Alexander Dalrymple, and Charles Blagden.

In 1795, Marsden was appointed second secretary to the admiralty, later rising to the position of first secretary with a salary of £4,000 per annum. It was in this capacity in 1805 that he received the news of victory in the Battle of Trafalgar and of the death of Admiral Horatio Nelson in the battle. He retired in 1807 with a lifetime pension of £1,500 per annum which he subsequently relinquished in 1831. In 1812, he published Grammar and Dictionary of the Malay Language. This was followed by a translation of the Travels of Marco Polo in 1818.

Marsden was a member of many learned societies, and treasurer and vice-president of the Royal Society. In 1834 he presented his collection of oriental coins to the British Museum and his library of books and Oriental manuscripts to King’s College London. His other works are Catalogue of Dictionaries, Vocabularies, Grammars and Alphabets (1796), Numismata orientalia (London, 1823–1825), and several papers on Eastern topics in the Philosophical Transactions and the Archaeologia.

He married Elizabeth, the daughter of his friend Sir Charles Wilkins FRS, but there was no issue to this marriage. He died on 6 October 1836 from an apoplexy attack and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. He left his estate to his kinsman Rev. Canon John Howard Marsden. Elizabeth subsequently married Colonel William Leake FRS on 17 September 1838.

  • 1784 — The history of Sumatra: containing an account of the government, laws, customs and manners of the native inhabitants, with a description of the natural productions, and a relation of the ancient political state of that island. London: Printed for the author.
  • 1802 — “Observations on the language of Siwah; in a letter to the Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Banks; by William Marsden, Esq., F.R.S.” in The Journal of Frederick Horneman’s Travels: From Cairo to Mourzouk, the Capital of the Kingdom of Fezzan, in Africa, by Friedrich Hornemann, James Rennell, William Marsden and William Young. London: G. and W. Nicol.
  • 1796 — Catalogue of Dictionaries, Vocabularies, Grammars and Alphabets
  • 1812 — Grammar and Dictionary of the Malay Language single edition, Dutch & French translation of the Grammar (C. P. J. Elout based on Marsden), Dutch-Malay & French-Malay Dictionary (C. P. J. Elout based on Marsden)
  • 1818 — Travels of Marco Polo
  • 1823 — Numismata orientalia
  • 1830 — Memoirs of a Malayan Family by ‘La-uddı̄n Nakhoda Muda (translated by William Marsden). London: Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland.

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